On March 28 over a million local government workers staged Britain’s biggest nationwide walkout since the 1926 general strike.
And they warned that they will strike again and again if necessary to stop the government from slashing their pensions.
“This is a tremendous day,” declared Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, a public-sector union, adding: “It is just the start.”
Addressing an enthusiastic rally in Westminster’s Central Hall, Prentis declared, “From John O’Groats to Lands End, across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and every part of England, our members have taken action today.”
Eleven public-sector unions joined forces for the action to demand an end to government attacks on workers’ pensions. Most services were paralyzed, and hundreds of schools and libraries closed for the day.
Thousands of local government workers poured into city centers for protest marches and rallies across the country.
Over 700,000 of the strikers were women who are determined to ram home the shocking fact that the average pension for women in local government amounts to the measly sum of £31 ($54) per week.
A noisy group of Unison activists arrived outside the House of Commons in a red open-topped bus. They held up jumbo-sized replica coins to the value of £31 before tossing them aside to show their disgust with this paltry weekly sum for a woman’s retirement.
Local Government Minister Phil Woolas stubbornly insisted that the government will soon present to Parliament regulations forcing pension cuts for council workers born after March 31, 1953.
Council workers are incensed that the government is seeking unilateral imposition of a retirement age of 65 instead of 60. Ministers want to scrap the so-called Rule 85, which at present allows staff whose age plus years worked equals 85 or more to retire at 60 on a full pension.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, told the Westminster rally of his “admiration for the unity and determination that has been shown by members of the 11 unions involved in the strike.”
He added: “I want to see the gap between private and public-sector pensions closed by lifting standards in the private sector, not dragging down the public sector.”
Thunderous applause filled the hall when GMB union regional secretary Ed Blissett declared, “I have to say this to the government: If you can find billions of pounds to wage war in Iraq, then you most certainly should be able to find a few millions to pay local authority pensioners what they deserve.”
Diana Holland, national secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, rejected the argument that people are living too long. “In fact, it is fantastic that people are living longer,” she said. “It is not a problem when people are living longer. It is only a problem if people are living longer in poverty.”
Amicus regional secretary Jennie Bremner warned ministers and employers that “this is the first of a rolling program of strike days,” adding: “If the government thinks it is over, they need to think again.”
— Reprinted from Morning Star (www.morningstaronline.co.uk)